Long-distance call evolution in the Felidae: effects of body weight, habitat, and phylogeny


E-mail: g.peters.zfmk@uni-bonn.de


Long-distance calls used for mate attraction and territorial spacing are distinctive signals in the felid vocal repertoire. Their evolution is subject to natural and sexual selection, as well as various constraints. Body size is an important morphological constraint, with the scaling of the spectral characteristics of a species' vocalizations with its body size being established for several vertebrate groups. Alternatively, the structure of long-distance calls may have been optimized for transmission in species' habitats (acoustic adaptation hypothesis). The present study assessed whether the mean dominant frequency of long-distance calls in the Felidae (approximately 70% of all species incorporated) is influenced by the species' body size and/or conforms to the acoustic adaptation hypothesis. After controlling for phylogenetic relationships, we found a significant correlation between mean dominant frequency of a taxon's long-distance calls and conditions for sound transmission in its habitat type (‘open/heterogeneous’ versus ‘dense’), although no significant influence of body size. Taxa living in more open habitat types have long-distance calls with significantly lower mean dominant frequencies than those living in dense habitats. The result obtained in the present analysis is fairly robust against random removal of single or few taxa from the data, and also against the use of different branch-length transformation models in phylogenetic regression. © 2010 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2010, 101, 487–500.